Should churches and other religious institutions have to pay for things like water, electricity, garbage removal, and other basic services? The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem doesn't seem to think it should, at least when it comes to a precious commodity like water. They haven't paid their water bill for years.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Until now, the Jerusalem water company has been willing to let it slide and take time to come to some sort of deal, but the amount of unpaid debt that the church as accumulated has grown so large that they are losing patience. They want to be paid, but they also don't want to turn off the water.
The General Secretary of the Patriarchate, Archbishop of Constantina Aristarchos, had no comment on the Maariv report. He said the church was willing to pay water bills from now on, but that the accumulated debt, stemming back years, would be problematic.
"We trust God and hope that people will help us," he said, adding that the Patriarchate has sent letters to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Maariv said that for decades there had been a tacit agreement between the church and a former mayor of Jerusalem, exempting the Patriarchate from paying for water piped to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
A spokesman for Hagihon, however, said the law did not permit the company to make such exemptions.
Talks with the Patriarchate have been going on for years, he said. The company had refrained from taking lawful enforcement steps, such as shutting the water off at the church, in order not to disrupt prayers and tourist activity at the site.
It should be noted that this is not a poor church. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has had its bank account frozen over the issue and they own large amounts of very valuable property in Israel. They, in turn, are threatening to shut the doors of the church if those who manage it don't start coming up with some cash to pay their bills.
And why shouldn't they? Churches aren't exempt from paying for goods and services nor should they be. Any churches which think they are too "special" or "important" to have to abide by the same rules and expectations as the rest of us should be closed and turned over to other owners. It's thinking like that which undermines democratic society.